For many years, a secret organization has been shaping events in Gotham City and the world of DC Comics Batman without his knowledge. And for months in the pages of the New 52 best-seller “Batman,” the Dark Knight has been investigating the truth behind his own past as it relates to this mysterious Court of Owls. But this May, the Owls strike back and strike hard in “Night of the Owls” -Â the first major crossover event since DC’s relaunch.
Spinning out of events in “Batman” and April prelude issues of that title and “Nightwing,” the story will see its spine unfold in the pages of the titular Bat title starting with May’s #9 as the attack of the Court of Owls echoes throughout the line in comics like “Nightwing,” “Batwing,” “Batman & Robin,” “Batgirl,” “Birds of Prey,” “Batman: The Dark Knight,” “Catwoman,” “Red Hood And The Outlaws” and “All-Star Western.” And to go deeper into the event, CBR is turning its regular Batman coverage into THE OWL SIGNAL -Â week of special interviews highlighting some of the event’s biggest tie-ins.
Today, we start with “Batman” with a special roundtable discussion including writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo and editor Mike Marts. Below, the trio describe the long term plans that led to the rise of the Court of Owls in “Batman,” how the recent brutal attack on Bruce Wayne’s mind was pulled off in topsy turvy fashion and how from issue #9 on, the action will get bigger as it spreads across the entire line. And stay tuned tomorrow for more on the event from CBR News.
CBR News: Scott, we’ve spoken in the past about how the entire concept of the Court of Owls is one that you’ve been thinking of since your run on “Detective” last year. At what point working on this stuff did you guys collectively realize that this story could get bigger and reach beyond “Batman” as a title and into the “Night of Owls” event?
Scott Snyder: As I was working on the story, I realized there was a point in issue #9 where the attack that the Owls were going to launch against Gotham was so big and so broad that we had to at least address where the other Bat characters were. So I talked to Mike and told him that there was an opportunity to play in if they wanted to. From there, we tried to make an event where each writer or each team working on the Bat books could look at their story lines and decide if they wanted to organically tie it in. We didn’t want to force anything on them. Luckily, a lot of them did. It’s been a tremendous amount of fun working with guys like Kyle Higgins, Scott Lobdell and everyone down the line. I’m excited that this became as big as it did and that it grew the way we allowed it to.
Greg Capullo: And without the fans loving this and eating it up, it couldn’t be as awesome as it is. Scott had a brilliant idea, and fortunately the world loved it too.
Mike Marts: And going back, Scott first talked about this story line over a year ago, and when we initially talked about it, we knew it had the potential to be huge and expand the Batman mythology. From there, it was just a matter of figuring out when and where to do it. Scott provided us with that opportunity around issues #8 and 9.
This is the first big crossover we’ve seen from DC since the New 52 hit. One of the big selling points for the relaunch was that the titles stood on their own out the gate and provided some jumping on points no matter where in the DCU you were looking. Did you have to pitch this idea up the ladder to Bob Harras, Dan Didio and Jim Lee in the same way the creators had pitched the story to you?
Marts: I think this was just a natural progression of the storytelling process and brainstorming that we do. We realized that the comic industry had gone through a bit of event fatigue, and with the New 52, we wanted to emphasize the fact that these were all great characters with new concepts, new takes and new creators where the series could stand on their own and tell their own stories in the beginning. We didn’t want to force a story event on the readers. But the “Night of the Owls” story came about so organically that it really was a perfect opportunity for all the Bat titles and characters to play into one single event. It was too good not to do. And doing it around issues #8 and 9 of “Batman” and all the series, it’s deep enough into the stories that we’ve allowed readers to get acquainted with the characters, to feel comfortable with them, and now we can get into this great event.
Let’s talk about the story of “Batman” leading up to this event. We’ve been following Bruce’s investigation into the Court of Owls since issue #1, and with #5 last month, things took a really brutal turn for him both physically and psychologically. What kind of state will he be in moving into the event? I got the impression you were almost gleeful to tell a story where he got the snot beat out of him…
Capullo: Well, I think we’re trying to force him into retirement. [Laughter]
Snyder: Yeah, issue #6 is probably more brutal than issue #5. He’s definitely in a place where we wanted to challenge him psychologically more than physically, even though he gets beaten on pretty hard. One of the things I admire about Greg’s art from the word go is that it’s so expressive. A lot of the stuff in issue #5 like turning the pages came from Greg. And I can write a script where the Court of Owls is challenging him as an idea, but to see it come to life and the terror that he feels as it comes from Greg’s art is really part of what fueled the event for me. The Owls were so scary on the page, and their designs were so great that I had to see more of them outside of “Batman.” So Greg is equally responsible for the viability of the event from my viewpoint.
Capullo: Thanks. That’s the great thing about this working relationship. Scott says I inspire him, and he inspires me. What better opportunity to do something that people love than if you yourself have such intense passion for it. And this story, as it keeps unfolding I’m like a little kid reading Scott’s scripts. I finish one, and he teases me “I’m almost done with #9.” And then he’ll send me a couple of pages, and I’ll go “God damn, that’s awesome!” I get all geared up to do a script, and my heart’s pounding fast. To give you an example, I was reading his script for issue #8, and all of the sudden I had to stop at page 11 and go to my computer, and I wrote Scott an e-mail that said, “I’ve been compelled to stop working to write and tell you that I f’ing love you!” [Laughter] It’s that brilliant and exciting and fun, and I’m glad it’s coming across that way.
Like Scott mentioned, there was the topsy turvy trick with the pages in issue #5 as Batman was trapped in the Owl’s maze. What was the process like for making that idea work out?
Snyder: That’s the great thing about working with Greg. I’d like to say that I’ve learned more working with him than any artist I’ve ever worked with. I feel like I’m becoming a better writer with every script because I can rely on him so much for the expressiveness of the page. What I did in that issue was explain the feeling I wanted, and some of the reference I sent him included clips from “The Shining” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” And once we started working on it, it was Greg’s idea to have the book flip. I loved it. I said, “Let’s do it!”
One of the great things about working on this book is that I’m getting better ways to tell a story from him, and with this event, one of the fun things has been talking and saying, “What if we had a Talon like this? What if for each story we vary up how the costume looks?” That generates more story ideas, and is a tremendous amount of fun.
Capullo: I’ll tell you something funny about that page turn too. I wrote them an e-mail and said, “Here’s a little idea. You can tell me I’m crazy and to go take a hike, but I think it’d be cool.” Then Mike sends me an e-mail saying, “We’re wondering if the readers will think it’s a misprint” and I got a little irate about it. Then Scott came in as a team player and said, “We can work it out. It’s cool.” So then the copies come in, right? [Laughs] And I’m flipping through the issue myself. I’d always intended it to go the full turn, and I’ve got my physical pages in my hand where it’s all working, but I never took into consideration the fact that eventually you’d need to turn the pages back in the opposite direction from what we’re all trained to read. So when I got to that point -Â and now I understand why Mike was worried about this -Â it threw me for a loop, and I wrote this e-mail going, “You guys! The printer messed it up! How could this happen?” I mean, I was freaking out! [Laughter] So I calmed down a little bit, and then said, “Oh wow. I didn’t anticipate this, but it’s even better!” So it even caught me off guard.
Snyder: It got me too. I got a copy as a PDF, and there you have to read it vertically as you scroll down so you never have to take that leap to go right to left as you turn the pages. When I saw it, I thought the same thing. I remember Tweeting “Everything in ‘Batman’ #5 is on purpose” once I figured it out. Then Greg was like, “Let them figure it out” and when you got your comps, you thought it was a misprint too!
Capullo: Right. But I still kept my mouth buttoned. [Laughter]
So once the story leads us to issue #9 and the crossover kicks off in full, what is the final straw that works as the inciting incident for all the tie ins? Is that issue ground zero for everything that happens over the rest of the month?
Capullo: Well, they’re going to get that answer in issue #6, aren’t they?
Snyder: Yeah. In the issue coming up, we’ll really make clear why the story is going to spread into other books. And issue #7 for us is the issue where a lot of revelations come out and the attack on Gotham begins. So for us it will be ground zero for all the books in issue #9, but it won’t come out of nowhere. It’ll build really fast starting from issue #6. Each issue gets you closer to this giant attack they’re launching across the story.
Capullo: It only stops mid-script when you stop to send Scott an e-mail and tell him how much you love him. [Laughter]
We also know some backups are coming to the book starting in issue #8, and those will focus on legacy of Alfred’s family. We’ve seen the Wayne history explored in the book and the history of Gotham, but how does the Pennyworth legacy play into that? I assume that much like your “Detective” run, these stories will play off each other, Scott.
Snyder: Yeah. It’s definitely going to have that kind of format where the backups and the main feature will play off each other. I’d never make it where you need to read the backup to understand anything that’s happening in the feature. They’re really separate stories, but they do lean on each other. When you read them together, it gives you more background. The story itself here is called “The Fall of the House of Wayne” and it starts with Jarvis Pennyworth writing a letter to Alfred talking about how the whole place is cursed and how he’s worried that he’s going to die tonight. It’s a gothic mystery that unravels the Pennyworth legacy and is tied to the story that’s happening in the feature. It has some very big revelations about the Wayne family as well and their connection to the Court of Owls over the years.
Mike, what can you tell us about how you took these building blocks from Scott and Greg’s story and pitched it out to the other writers? Was there a point in issue #8 and 9 that you could kind of say, “Here’s where you plug in”?
Marts: Yeah. What was great is that Scott had this story structured for a long time, so we knew the direction we were going in. At the time when we had to plan the event, we knew exactly where the story was going. So it was really pretty easy to branch out and talk to the other writers. In the same way that we have a great team on “Batman” that works as a team, that extends out into the Batman family. Pete Tomasi, Judd Winick, Kyle Higgins, Scott Lobdell and all the writers we’re working with all talk to Scott pretty regularly. So it was easy for them to jump into the event, and it came together nicely. Greg did an outstanding group of character designs for some of the antagonists we’ll be seeing in the stories. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I’ll say that Greg did a super job designing them.
Speaking of which, so far the Court of Owls have been kind of faceless villains. We’ve had some general Talon foot soldiers and the more aristocratic Owls who run the show. But is part of this event about peeling back those masks a bit or even giving a bit more definition to the power structure of the organization?
Snyder: I don’t want to give it away, but part of the fun of this will be about peeling back the mask in terms of who might be a part of the Court and who might not be. In a bigger, more historical way, we’ll see the Courts influence over time and the things they’ve done to shape the destiny of different Bat characters. There will be a lot of reveals in that department. So it will be a lot more than “Who is it behind the white mask in issue #5?” or “Who’s this characters?” It’s more about who they’ve been to Gotham and to the Waynes over the years, and there will be a lot of revelations in both departments.
To wrap, over the course of all the things you’ve done with “Batman” as a book and with “Night of the Owls” as an event, what are you most excited to see roll out over the next few months of story?
Snyder: That’s tough. I can’t think of one thing. It’s the whole story. To me, each issue is fun to craft and give its own shape, but this is really about one big tale that Greg and I are telling on the page. It’s getting to each surprise that’s great. Issue #6 has surprises, and #7 has a ton of surprises, and #8 does too right up until the very end in #11. I feel bad because I’m always Tweeting “The next issue I can’t wait for” but it’s true! I see the art, and I get even more over the moon about it. I feel very lucky to get to write the book and tell these stories with someone like Greg and under someone like Mike. There’s total creative freedom, and there’s also a tremendous amount of support with a back and forth of ideas that’s tremendously exciting. These are my favorite characters in the world, and for me, there’s no part of it I’m not incredibly excited about and grateful for. The day we don’t have stories that we’re excited to tell that are big and important is the day I promise I’ll step away from “Batman.” We care greatly about the story, and I wouldn’t tell stories that didn’t feel this way. And part of that feeling is working with these guys.
Capullo: For me, I’m like a regular fan. Since Batman’s been getting the living daylights punched out of him, I want to see his big revenge. I want him to go after these Owls. I want to see blood and vengeance! [Laughs] What I’m looking for is the culmination of Batman coming back up on top.
Snyder: He definitely kicks some ass coming up. One of my favorite panels that you drew is in issue #6 that’s really the turning point of the whole issue where Batman is like, “I am sick of Owls.”
Capullo: That’s a great line too, man!
Snyder: We really let you know when things are about to turn around.
Capullo: And Owls are everywhere, man. I was at a restaurant with the Missus, and it tripped me out because this chick came in with an owl tattoo. I thought, “Okay, that’s trippy.” And then we’re taking a ride to the train station, and under the bridge is this big graffiti of an owl! It’s freaking me out.
They’re following you!
Snyder: My son came in with Night Owl PJs on the other night, and I was like “Who gave you those?” [Laughter]
Capullo: The Court is real!
Stay tuned to CBR all week as THE OWL SIGNAL brings all the news of “Night of the Owls.”